COVER STORY

*** Jan­uary is the peak month for mar­riage break­downs, so how do you make sure love lasts a life­time? Six happy cou­ples re­veal all...

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

What be­gan as a young bar­ris­ter and a jour­nal­ist friend catch­ing up over lunch on Fleet Street blos­somed into a mar­riage that has, to date, lasted 46 years. Sir Paul Co­leridge, who as a High Court judge presided over some of Bri­tain’s most bit­ter di­vorce cases, is adamant, how­ever, that his long and happy mar­riage to his wife, Lisa, is not just a ques­tion of luck. “The big­gest killer of mar­riage is bore­dom – peo­ple giv­ing up and not both­er­ing to in­vest – but we have been com­mit­ted to mak­ing it last and work well,” he says.

A cosy, lov­ing “for­ever” mar­riage, like his, or that of foot­ball man­ager and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! star Harry Red­knapp and his wife San­dra, who met in a pub in 1964 and have now been mar­ried 51 years, is what ev­ery cou­ple hopes for when they make their vows – yet the re­al­ity is that any child born in Bri­tain to­day has just a 50 per cent chance of their par­ents be­ing to­gether on their 15th birth­day. More peo­ple will file for di­vorce this month than any other month of the year – among them the world’s rich­est cou­ple, Jeff and Macken­zie Be­zos.

“All mar­riages start off the same: two peo­ple, madly in love, want­ing to com­mit for the rest of their lives,” ex­plains di­vorce lawyer Aye­sha Vardag (vardags.com). “The dif­fer­ence is that those that stay to­gether, work to­gether to pre­empt and defuse prob­lems, they look af­ter their mar­riages and them­selves.”

“For­ever” mar­riages do not hap­pen by ac­ci­dent, agrees Nicky Lee, who with Sila, his wife of 42 years, de­vised the Mar­riage Course (the­mar­riage­courses.org). “You’re both al­ways go­ing in one of three di­rec­tions: grow­ing apart, on par­al­lel lines or mov­ing to­wards each other – you’ve got to keep striv­ing for the lat­ter,” he says.

How, though, do you keep the spark alive when your re­la­tion­ship set­tles in to its in­evitable rhythm? Re­search by the Mar­riage Foun­da­tion sug­gests a third of di­vorc­ing cou­ples blame “drift­ing apart” for their sepa­ra­tion. Co­leridge rec­om­mends re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, San­dra Red­knapp urges never go­ing to bed on an ar­gu­ment, while life coach Ca­role Ann Rice (re­al­coach­ingco.com) ad­vises risk-tak­ing. “An abil­ity to grow and be flex­i­ble as the years go on is the key,” she says.

Even a mar­riage on the rocks can be re­vived and go the dis­tance, says bar­ris­ter Harry Gates, founder of the Di­vorce Surgery (the­di­vorcesurgery.co.uk). “Don’t write off your re­la­tion­ship in the thick of par­ent­hood,” he urges. “Ride it out and take stock once you’ve emerged from sleep de­pri­va­tion. And keep talk­ing. When peo­ple stop talk­ing to each other about what is wrong, a re­la­tion­ship starts to break down.”

Ro­mance and in­ti­macy are also key el­e­ments, adds Vardag: date nights, week­ends away, film nights; re­mem­ber­ing what it was that brought you to­gether in the first place. “Adul­tery never hap­pens in a vac­uum – hus­bands and wives go else­where to find what they are not get­ting at home and that means ex­cite­ment and in­ter­est as well as sex,” she says.

Of­ten, a mo­ment of self-re­flec­tion is all it takes to get a re­la­tion­ship back on track. “When you met your part­ner, you were vi­va­cious, charm­ing, witty, ex­cit­ing, at­trac­tive – it’s im­por­tant to car­ry­ing on be­ing those things they fell in love with, which means do­ing your own thing, hav­ing some­thing new to talk about,” she says.

Don’t over­think your mar­riage or in­vest in too much ther­apy, though, warns Co­leridge, who founded Mar­riage Foun­da­tion (mar­riage­foun­da­tion.org.uk) to pro­mote the ben­e­fits of mar­riage and pro­vide re­la­tion­ship ed­u­ca­tion. There is a dan­ger that if you take it to pieces, you might not be able to get it back to­gether again.

“Ac­cept your dif­fer­ences and be quick to for­give and move on,” he says. “I don’t like hear­ing that mar­riage is hard work – any­thing that is worth do­ing re­quires some ef­fort.”

I met Kate when I was 23 and she was 19 and I knew within a cou­ple of weeks that she was the woman I wanted to marry. It wasn’t un­til eight years into our mar­riage, though, when it went badly down­hill, that I re­alised I needed to do two things to make it work: be kind to her and be her friend. Since then, I’ve al­ways tried to no­tice Kate and be aware of how she is feel­ing. KATE: A good re­la­tion­ship lasts be­cause you work at it: there will al­ways be times when it is a night­mare or bor­ing but I al­ways found a rea­son to hang in there – even if it was just for the chil­dren. Now we’ve been to­gether long enough that I know we can al­ways get through bad times – I think you have to close off the idea of opt­ing out if you want a long mar­riage. HARRY: I once heard Kate say that I never com­pli­ment her, so I made a note to my­self to do so. She rolled her eyes at the time but now it’s be­come habit. Kind­ness is a proac­tive word, you can’t do it through grit­ted teeth and pas­sive ag­gres­sion. KATE: Harry and I are dif­fer­ent: I like time and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, whereas he is quite in­tro­verted and prefers touch and ac­tions. Ini­tially I was an­noyed by his way of show­ing love and con­stantly judg­ing our re­la­tion­ship, cer­tain it was Harry’s fault when things went wrong. HARRY: We have six chil­dren and we have en­joyed run­ning our large fam­ily to­gether but

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